June 25, 2013  |  Second Reading Speech

Transport Legislation Amendment (Foundation Taxi And Hire Car Reforms) Bill 2013

I rise to join the debate on the Transport Legislation Amendment (Foundation Taxi and Hire Car Reforms) Bill 2013. I have to say that this is the most heartless and ruthless pieces of legislation I have seen introduced into this Parliament. It is a piece of legislation that will ruin the lives of good, hardworking people and their families. It is a piece of legislation that will rob thousands of individuals and their families of their life savings.

Reform of the taxi industry is a perennial issue — –

Honourable members interjecting.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar) — Order! I do not mind some interjection, but if members want to interject, I ask that they do so from their places.

Mr SOMYUREK – Reform of the taxi industry is a perennial issue in this state, as it is in other jurisdictions throughout Australia and the world. There have been many attempts at reform of the industry, but no government has been heartless and ruthless enough to do what this government is doing with this piece of legislation. These reforms — –

Honourable members interjecting. 

Mr SOMYUREK – Mr Ramsay talks about courage. These reforms are not about political courage, Acting President. There are only 3500 individual taxi owners in this industry — not enough to cause any electoral discomfort at all. Furthermore, a great number of the individual taxi owners are unskilled migrants whose alternative form of employment is typically working in factories or opening up a small business. That may be a little bit cliched, but I am afraid it is the truth. Given that these people are predominantly from working class migrant family backgrounds, they are not as articulate or eloquent as people in some other interest groups. The owners of taxis are easy targets. They are soft targets. This does not require political courage; these people are soft targets.

I suspect coalition members have done the numbers on this. I suspect they have done the maths on this. And that is why they have taken a sledgehammer to the owners of these licences. They can count. They have done the numbers. 

Among previous governments, Labor and Liberal, Jeff Kennett’s overhauled the taxi industry. Jeff Kennett did many things to this state, but he was not as ruthless as this mob here. He could count. He knew there were only about 3500 owners. The Labor Party governments — the Bracks and Brumby governments — knew there were only 3500 taxi owners. They could do the maths, but they were not heartless as this mob is.

The threshold question for the members of the government to consider before they vote on this bill — and they should have a think about this — is whether they would like their superannuation to be ripped out of their hands. Would they want the government to step in and take away their houses or their superannuation? Those are the threshold questions. Members opposite should decide which way they vote today by considering those questions. 

I am going to continue my contribution, but that is enough from me as far as my words are concerned. I will quote former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett. According to a newspaper article: 

Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett has showed his support for the taxi industry and taken aim at Professor Allan Fels over proposed taxi reforms.

Mr Kennett criticised Fels’s review and says it will ‘deliberately destroy’ individuals’ superannuation assets.

Is this Jeff Kennett scaremongering? What are his motivations for scaremongering? I am going to stop using my own words and let the people who are affected by these reforms have their say.

Mr Ondarchie interjected. 

Mr SOMYUREK – I did not go out and solicit responses from these people; they wrote to me, they emailed me, they telephoned me and they visited my electorate office. I was not out there scaremongering; these people did it themselves. Do you know why? They had motivation to do so because they were losing their life savings. I am not going to name the individual correspondents because it is not fair as I have not spoken to them, but I will be quoting their words.

Mr O’Brien — Why have you not spoken to them?

Mr SOMYUREK – I have spoken to many of them. One of them wrote:

I am a taxi licence holder and I will be financially ruined if this legislation is passed. I purchased the taxi licence for $505 000 in 2010, mortgaging my home to do so. Now the government is telling me this licence is worth between $300 000-$350 000.

I would like Mr Ondarchie to reflect on that. From a value of $505 000 in 2010 this gentleman’s licence is now worth between $300 000 and $350 000. I want the members of the government to reflect on that.

I will quote from another letter from a constituent, and again I am not going to name the person: 

This stands to ruin my entire family. You might expect this kind of aggressive takeover type behaviour from big greedy corporations, but to have our own government behave this way is unconscionable. 
My husband and I have remortgaged our home to purchase a licence for $480K. This investment represented our kids’ education and our future retirement. It will now be highly negatively geared and we may not be able to meet our repayments. The capital loss is irrecoverable. 
My brother, Con, is in a similar situation, and relies on this to subsidise his income.

It is a brother; this is not a person who owns multiple licences. The letter continues: 

My parents, Maria and Tony, are self-funded retirees — this is their sole source of income. 
I urge you to carefully consider this and ask you to put yourself in the place of each of these stakeholders.

I echo those thoughts and would urge government members to consider those words. Another correspondent wrote: 

We purchased our licence three years ago for $520 000 at the same price as city licences and have always had the same fare structure.

We know what that licence is valued at now. Another correspondent wrote: 

I live in a humble, underdog family and am extremely fortunate that our family taxi business has enabled me to finish my tertiary schooling — –

Mr Ondarchie interjected. 

Mr SOMYUREK – I am happy to table these. 

If this has occurred today, I will be working possibly as child labour, as the Melbourne, Victorian government has liquidated my family business.

Ms Crozier interjected.

Mr SOMYUREK – This is a correspondent who has written to me. This is a person who will be affected by this legislation. I quote from another piece of correspondence: 

I am a retired taxidriver for many years. I had the opportunity to purchase my licence which is my superannuation today. 
I do not get a dime off the government (nothing) – 

from the government, nothing – 

Take this away from me then the only out is the pension … most of the drivers are people who are not interested in this as their future, but just passing through for a quick buck.

Another correspondent wrote: 

Currently my wife and I own our taxi plate and both drive split shifts daily. With three children under the age of eight, we find that this allows one of us to be with the children. We purchased our taxi plate in 2003 for $360 000, at the time the average house price was less than this amount. We mortgaged our house taking advantage of the available equity provided by the property boom. Currently we are paying off a large combined mortgage which includes our house and the taxi plate, the term for which was set at 30 years. 

Another correspondent wrote: 

My husband and I purchased a taxi licence in 1994 in what was then a regulated taxi industry and on the basis of the following words, as stated by the then Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett (who did much at the time to revolutionise Victoria’s taxi industry) that the taxi industry in Victoria would never be deregulated. Bring on changes in government and here we are in 2013 facing the biggest single crisis to face the industry. 
We purchased the licence as my husband was a taxidriver and we mortgaged our home in order to be able to fund and finance his entry into the taxi industry as a small business owner-operator. 
Come 2013, and it appears that we are now going to be penalised, and in a big way, for saving, struggling and endeavouring to fund our business and plan for our retirement on the basis that the value of the taxi licence would be my husband’s self-funded retirement. WRONG –

‘Wrong’, the correspondent wrote – 

bring on Professor Fels’s recommendations and it appears that my husband has been working himself to the ground for nothing! 
We are now being penalised for this. Should the open market be voted in, we stand to lose the most substantial part of our superannuation plan.

Another correspondent wrote: 

We have provided for ourselves and our children and contributed to this country to this day. To receive this from the Liberal Party, it feels like criminals entered our home and demanded our belongings. But this feels even worse, much, much worse having received this from our state government. Are we turning into a communist country?

If only Mr Finn were here. Another correspondent wrote:

I’ve invested in the industry and firmly believe I was preparing for my retirement fund, especially when we were told by the then relevant authorities that MT licences could be used as collateral that gave me security and confidence. Over the past 4 decades, as both a taxidriver and operator, I have worked hard to purchase more than one licence.

Another correspondent wrote pleading: 

Please help us! Be our saving grace against financial, personal and familial ruin! Many lives are in turmoil. We need you to fight for justice on our behalf.
… 
From $500 000 to nil! 
Let the taxi licence holders out before the Victorian government takes a disastrous unprecedented lead! It had not been an intelligent inquiry and resolution… 
Please support us!

The correspondent pleaded – 

We are people that have built a service. We have worked hard — retired on humble incomes from leasing taxis (not a pension!) haven’t got any superannuation — leased or worked on our own taxis with very ordinary incomes and only had comfort in the dollar value of our business — most of us hoping to pass this modest legacy on to our families one day. We paid a great deal of bank interest while earning these licences and wish to be compensated for our losses. 

Before voting on this bill, I hope government members — –

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar) — Order! Time, thank you.